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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I'm a Pink Peace Princess

October again.

Time for so many  wonderful things -  the slow lowering of boiling tropical heat to merely intolerable, the earlier fall of darkness and some not so wonderful like BREAST CANCER AWARENESS month.

I am drowning in the pink - there is no safe place to land my eyeballs. Pizza boxes, pencils to car commercials and my very favorite, cancer-causing plastic things at the Dollar Store.  

Some find it very reassuring - these pink slogans, events and seeming hope. Just because my safe little world has been shattered, why ruin it for others?   

This month, I won't endlessly squawk that everyone is aware of breast cancer already, it does not necessarily matter what you do to prevent it, that it can and frequently does strike people regardless of age, diet and constitution. And I PINKy swear not to preach snarkily that your life-saving mammogram may be utterly worthless if you have dense breast tissue. No railing about how my yearly mammograms, especially the last one 3 months prior to my diagnosis failed me, and showed absolutely nothing suspicious. How no one ever mentioned that an ultrasound would be needed to find anything. 

You will be proud of me this October. I'm only going to engage in a few worthy battles for my METS sisters. Let's start now! The very prestigious Moffitt Cancer Center proudly posted a social media pic showing large pink, sexy bras festooned with ribbons, bows and shaggy scraps of used paper. These monstrosities were purportedly hung inside the very treatment facility where suffering, sick women in all stages of treatment could marvel at them. 

You might ask, WELL, what about the ladies that have endured disfiguring and life-altering breast surgery?  Perhaps even a double mastectomy? The ones that are not pursuing recon and will never NEED a bra again?   

Yes, what about them indeed, Moffitt?  

Moffitt says that it was part of some pseudo-self-esteem exercise and that the bras were actually made by patients facing reconstruction. What a really awful arts and crafts idea, but okay then, if I'm the patient, here is my bra: BLACK and of scratchy, cheap itchy wool. The underside facing my chest has thumbtacks in it that needle me constantly. I'd like it to have lots of splotches of red, bloody paint. And those preposterously large molded cups should be filled with sadness and anger. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Finally a gift that does not suck

I am all DONE with that dreaded menopause. 

Yep, apparently chemo hastened it and also, masked all symptoms. A silver lining of sorts. The gift that keeps on giving perhaps is developing some taste. 

Gift #1: It's over!

Gift #2: Now I know the real reason for the crazy, unexplained weight gain. Knowledge is power. 

Gift #3: Since in America, post-menopausal women over 50 are for the most part socially invisible and irrelevant, it's time to become as eccentric and weird as I want. Look out!

My pre-breast cancer personality would be obsessing, bitching and creating drama about getting older and fatter and grayer, blah blah blah. Getting all nostalgic for my former life, body and everything else.

Breast Cancer bequeaths another present right away - awareness and instant ability to be present in the moment, to appreciate the fragility of life and the blessings you have. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Bitch is Back. Again.

Scary pic circa October 2014, about Round 3 of Chemo. Just look at the forced grin, steroidal moon-face and those medication-dulled eyes. Good times!

Reminders are everywhere. Scars, those hidden and some impossible to conceal.

Lingering depression and the terror of recurrence. For a long time post-acute treatment I'm unable to mount the mere thought of a comeback. Mourning my old life keeps me paralyzed, along with that torn hamstring.

Departing slowly is the sad, stiff, achy, clutzy, obese girl. She can squat, she can move, she can Plank. Her core, formerly rotten and weak, is slowly morphing into something else. She can do things that she used to do before the Terrible Tumor Twins moved in. Things she thought would never be within her abilities again. 

Also for the first time since the Twins' eviction, she has gainful, full-time employment. It's zero stress, fun and easy, and pays remarkably well with excellent benefits. It fell into her lap like a comforting blanket, unexpected and at the best possible moment.

I'm learning the importance of taking things slow. Savoring the journey vs. the race to the destination.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


The cancer may be gone, but its destruction continues. The trauma of diagnosis, chemo, radiation and medication decimate me, body and soul. My 50 pound weight gain, lost mobility and joint pain make me miserable and clumsy. Sleep is fragmented, energy zero. 

My first attempt at getting in shape in 2015 results in a torn hamstring that does not heal. The pain is enormous and constant, the limb weak so I tear another compensating muscle. A cane is required to simply walk and the next 6 months are spent icing, wrapping, elevating and limping along.  

It's a dark time. There is temptation to give up. Obese people understand this - when even getting up out of a chair is difficult and painful, what's the point? Maybe better to just bring on the fried chicken, if this is my life now. Perhaps one day some cute fireman will cut down a wall to remove my 700 pound corpse, still clutching dead chicken bones. 

That tiny spark of my battered spirit though...she's a feisty bitch that never gives up on me even though I've done so in every meaningful way. 

Since I feel like Zero, where better to begin? That leg protests immediately. It aches, my moves are clumsy and unbalanced, with limited range of motion. Pilates Core for Beginners is incredibly difficult, because my core is rotten. I continue. 

The leg stops aching and the tightness eases so I add short, low impact cardio and small weights. Mobility, balance and endurance improve. Within a month, my clothes are looser and my joints no longer ache. When rising from a sitting position, the stiffness and stone-like muscle lock are gone. 

Yesterday was a rest day - was tempted to workout because already my day does not feel right without it. I didn't though. No reason to rush it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Goodbye Girl

I was born with an overabundant love of nostalgia. Goodbyes have never been easy.

Saying goodbye to my old job circa 2014 was crushing, and not just because of breast cancer, and all its charms. That apocalyptic, scary as all hell diagnosis and the ensuing frenetic medical carnival. The feeling that the universe was crapping on me...why? I'd been a pretty good person overall.   

It was nice to catch up with my old Boss yesterday. It was even nicer to learn that he finally is closing up shop next month. 

Maybe he took the advice which I bark during my last day in the office, despite being so destroyed from the first chemo it's difficult to form coherent thought.  Look outside, I say. Since you need not work, wouldn't you rather be outside enjoying this magnificent day vs. being hunched over that freaking desk? Which is where my replacement will one day find your corpse, hunched over in earnest and forevermore. Because you really never know how many days you have left.

Fast forward to our call today. It is good to hear his voice, to know his family is well. Instead of the sadness for my old life, there is only peace and contentment, and looking forward with hope. 

Downward Dog Days of Summer

About a year ago, when trying to get in shape too quickly, I suffered a debilitating hamstring tear and knee pull. I should have gone to the doctor, but my hatred of all things medical prevented such. And, it did heal on its own. After a very, very, very long and pain-filled year. Still not 100%, but it is improving.

Due to the oppressive Florida heat, I'm stuck inside the a/c with my Acacia subscription and free Youtube videos. 

Acacia is through Amazon Prime Channels - it's $6.99 a month and worth it. Loads of beginner, low impact, short videos. Youtube has Jessica Smith TV and she's likewise got tons of short, easy to do, beginner programs. I'm walking, stretching, doing cardio and push-ups for the first time in years. Well I did one push-up, but you have to begin somewhere, right? 

Also, after that hamstring tear, a few things are apparent. It's not 1988 and no longer can I whip myself into shape in a week. I'm done with overdoing it and getting nowhere except on a crutch. Best to focus on what I can do right now, and build upon it slowly. A lifestyle change, not a quick fix. You know the rest.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Puzzling Nature of Recovery

Our mini-getaway in the woods was relaxing, quiet and fun. It's something that I would have paid dearly for pre-cancer, during my paralegal days. 

How lovely to have zero job-related stress, one of the many benefits of being non-essential. It's taken a few years to embrace this new normal. 

So far am I from from that file-slinging, turbo-typing, doing-a-thousand-things-at-once-juggling dynamo.  

Post-treatment, nearly 3 years out, there is ample time to pursue hobbies, crafts, relax, write and take classes. There was simply no time, energy or inspiration pre-BC. The part-time gig which brings in less than half of my old full-time salary is enough and Mike is busier than ever with his work. We live a simple, abundant life, saving more money and traveling more frequently than ever before. There are no sacrifices. 

You already know that humans are resilient as all hell and you will get used to your new normal - no one is exactly the same after BC. It takes time and some effort to let go of your former self. 

One of the old hobbies I'm taken up again is puzzles. 

Recovery is so much like a puzzle. A life which took years to assemble so meticulously can quickly be torn apart and tossed back in your face. Everything is a mess, you have no clue where even to try to begin putting it back together. Those pieces that used to fit together perfectly are now jagged, lost or damaged beyond repair.

The larger the puzzle, the harder the task. It takes time and patience. Best to start with the edges and work inward. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Eggs and I

I love Easter.

It invokes wonderful memories of family gatherings. All my loved ones have passed on and the ones less loved have scattered to the winds. But, for decades before they leave, we enjoy Easter Sunday with food, lawn games, board games, flower picking, egg hunting, cooking and sleeping under the stars (weather permitting).

Until her death at age 98, my Grandmother is the glue. She bestows Easter baskets with REAL chocolate, plastic eggs and jelly beans. She prepares feasts: baked ham, fried chicken, creamed spinach, fresh corn and string beans, kidney bean salad and the Best Potato Salad in the World. 

In my childhood there are Easter egg hunts on my Grandmother's enormous flower filled yard. Sometimes the eggs contain real silver coins. Photos - me in pigtails and fancy pastel dresses, tiny lacy trimmed socks and shiny Mary Janes; my father in Cuban shirts with perfectly quaffed hair; my mother, cigarette dangling in black stiletto heels and cocktail dress; grandma always with food in her hands; a picnic table bearing the weight up the Easter Feast; ceiling scraping layer cakes. 

All those happy times and good souls deserve a lovely place on the wall, to remind me where we've been and where we still need to go. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Taking to the Woods

It's a big year - I turn 50 and our 27th wedding anniversary. 

Everything takes on new meaning nowadays. You are always worrying that all the expensive, nasty, mutilating treatment you took just slightly delayed the inevitable journey to Stage IV. We'd like to get away. 

What do we need? Something peaceful, relaxing and filled with nature, where we need no fancy clothing or large amounts of cash. 

Florida has many natural springs and forests, all very different from our local scrub pines and palmettos. Fresh waters and large, undeveloped, pristine forested areas with shady trails galore, geocaching, antique stores and miles of country roads. 

We discover an RV resort with all the amenities, right in the middle of Ocala National Forest, and directly across the street from springs. We will ride bikes, fish off the dock, swim in the springs and the pool, lounge around in the huge, luxury RV and have fires at night. All we really need to bring is food and our personal items. There's a golf cart provided too, and a Dollar General store at the entrance to our park -- what more do we need?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I hope Mandi would like this post.

Though we never met we have many things in common: RV’ng, cooking, family, animals,  work, friends, life itself. She even had her very own Mike. He’s a badass, just like mine.  

We both find our own lumps and are diagnosed with breast cancer just before our birthdays – hers at 31, mine at 46. By the time I discover her blog at Darn Good Lemonade in late 2014, I’m well into chemo and all its horrors. She is well into dealing with her metastic disease process.

It is now my year three post treatment, near where Mandi was upon learning that she was Stage IV, despite the extremely aggressive treatments she had received. Chemo, surgery, radiation. Just like me.

It’s her blog that convinces me to write. Unlike me, Mandi can tell a riveting story with nary a curse word, and make you laugh and sob and rage right along with her. I respect this quality and never could emulate it. But maybe I can tell my story in my own way -- and perhaps help someone through it along the way. It's been a liberating, empowering, incredibly healing thing that probably would never have occurred had I not discovered DGL. 

While breast cancer a terrible diagnosis for any woman, I can’t comprehend having it made at the tender age of 31. Mandi's grace and strength resonate in every post. How to feel self-pity after seeing her photos? They tell their own story, before and after BC:  Mandi in the wild, on another rv trip with Mike and the furbabies. Mandi with friends and family. Mandi cooking. Mandi in her wedding dress, and my favorite: Mandi in a hospital gown, face defiantly beaming at the camera. Fierce and determined. 

Mandi Hudson died this week. It’s hitting much harder than anticipated, though we knew it was coming. Maybe it’s because her blog inspired me so much, or all the things we had in common. Mostly, it feels like I lost a friend. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

There will be Blood...and money

No one that has suffered a serious disease, accident or bad medical dilemma will ever look at money and medicine the same way.

Before BC, there came the Recalcitrant Uterine Crisis of 2009.  

My first doc (let’s call her Doctor Slingcrap) drugs me with birth control pills in some clinical trial that gives her kickbacks. It does nothing for me unless you consider the worst cerebral migraine ever progress. It feels like an elephant is standing on the base of my skull. Very scary. 

My uterus has mocked every single effort to reign it in. Organic diet, a 40 pound weight loss, fasting, acupuncture, meditation, exercise, castor oil packs, prayer, Chinese herbs. But the birth control pills really piss it off. It ramps up, blasting maniacal explosions of flesh and blood, with no discernible pattern, except One. Whole. Helluva. Lot.  And no pad or tampon can contain these Tsunami-like deluges. Hysterical laughter overcomes me when placing the biggest size made pads on – they resemble quilted Kleenex boxes. 

Doctor Slingcrap becomes cranky when I complain of the brain-crushing headache. Well, she sniffs, for a headache like that you need an MRI. Well, I sniff right back, if you bothered to read my file, and as we have discussed dozens of times, my history of migraines goes back decades. Oh, and Doc, my research says that BC pills can exacerbate migraines. Oh! And Doc? I’m not carrying around an extra 3500 bucks for unnecessary imaging.

Doctor Slingcrap is done with me. She becomes combative, dismissive and arrogant. Pissy at losing those kickbacks, I guess.

I find a new doctor, let’s call him Dr. GQ, who is model handsome and  a highly-skilled surgeon. GQ properly diagnoses me and finds that in addition to the legion of fibroids, there’s also a fun thing called Adenomyosis. Options are discussed, surgery is completed, and recovery goes well. 

Fast forward to today, as we dig out from the financial storm endured from fun in Cancerland. 

Seems my shitty insurance was particularly shitty, and I was not exactly on top of things back then. The comely Dr. GQ. is owed $311.00, from way back in 2014, right after my diagnosis. Lost my health, job and savings. Perhaps his bill got past me, lost in the dozens I stopped looking at when they reached $850,000.00.

Dr. GQ resides with his likewise GQ Radiologist wife in a 7-bathroom mansion, so he really clearly NEEDS money and that $311 is the only thing standing between himself and homelessness. 

Still, maybe he could have been kind and just written it off. Perhaps for my mental health, as a courtesy to a long-time patient.

You know the answer already, don’t you?